Building Communities

Jun 8, 2018 09:30 · 826 words · 4 minute read culture enterprise change development teams

Community is culture in action

When you think of modern development cultures you probably think of names such as Netflix, Flickr, Etsy or Heroku. I’ve never worked at these companies but myself, and many folks I’ve spoken on this topic with, nonetheless immediately think of these companies when asked about development culture. These digital-native companies have seen success in disruption of their respective industries largely, if not solely, due to their culture and approach to making it a priority.

The focus on culture at these digital natives is a unique idea when compared to the traditional enterprise. That’s not to say that large enterprises don’t have a culture, or don’t care about it, but they don’t have unwavering commitment to it. Instead enterprises often take to the outcomes of culture driven companies and try to mimic them. For example, taking Netflix’s plethora of OSS and implementing it.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

In this example, the ship is the outcome, it’s the Netflix OSS that other companies somewhat blindly implement. These non-natives tell their employees to build the ship. Whereas Netflix never asked their employees to build the ship, they built the culture that in turn produced great product.

Writing a 100+ slide deck about your culture (now represented here) is no mistaken by-product. It is a purposefully written document to make culture a tangible thing. It is the written form of culture in action; a community of high performers coming together with passion for producing products they are proud of.

Digital non-natives that are in the midst of or just about to start their transformation need to take notice. Purposefully crafted culture is a baseline requirement for a workforce that is innovative and able to create great digital products.

But what do you do when the enterprise isn’t yet taking the leap to post your own /culture page?

Grassroots culture

Obvious allies

Start within your immediate sphere of influence. Individuals that you work with day to day and who often discuss complain along with you about the opportunity you watch disappear in front of your eyes as you say this place…. smh.

Complaining and venting has its place and benefit, but….

Bitching ain’t working and working ain’t bitching

-Guy I work with

Make a conscious effort to turn this energy into action. At Charter, we have started small communities around various technical topics. Most of which don’t directly apply to the day to day work we do, but provide an opportunity for people with similar passions to meet and be passionate about a topic together. You’d be surprised how powerful simple human connection is. Positive face-to-face interaction can become a drug that quickly builds empathy and trust, the foundations of high performing teams.

Write it down

Document your principles and values. Create a Gist or Snippet about what you appreciate about your current culture or dream up a vision of what you think your office environment looks like in the future.

Adam Wiggins’ gist about his Heroku Values is the simplest form of deliberate culture. Ray Dailo’s Principles is this in long form. Both shining examples of what it means to truly understand how oneself operates and what you contribute to a culture.


Create regular opportunity to exercise your culture and room for it to naturally grow. Take time out of the week to get groups together, discuss anything, even discuss how to continue hacking your culture. Host hack-a-thons, take your teams offsite, create areas in your workspace that are reserved for conversation or reserved for quiet work. Whatever you imagine, just make it real and make it a habit.

This is arguably the hardest part. It will make you self-conscious, it will make you question what you’re doing, and it will make you vulnerable. It can be scary to put yourself out there for fear of leadership looking at you sideways and wondering why you take your whole team offsite to a brewery to hack on tools that may not ever be used at your company.

Seeing is believing

You will know it when you see it. Your smh situations will turn into head nodding and smiles. Make this visible to others. Change 101 is finding areas that you can convert easily until you’ve gained critical mass. Imagine your culture hacking crusade as a Risk board, where you must attack on the easiest fronts until the most stubborn fronts are surrounded and must surrender or disappear.

If you find yourself imaging your workplace as one you’ve already seen, take the non-believers there and show them the art of the possible. Be fearless in your crusade and determined to affect change or get fired trying. What else do you have to lose? A job that you won’t love in the long-term?